Perhaps influenced by Jonathan Richman, James Mercer frequently used the mall as lyrical metaphor. Well, at least for a few productive years he did. Before that, the mall was more mall than metaphor. …At some point, Mercer and the mall had a falling out.
The Early Mall Period: The Mall as Friend
Know Your Onion – The Shins – Oh, Inverted World – 2001
Found my favorite record
Lying in wait at the Birmingham mall
The songs that I heard
The occasional book
Were the only fun I ever took
And I got on with making myself
Oh, so innocent. Reflecting on the mall as a gateway to experience the world. Younger James Mercer still remembers the mall fondly. Give it time. Give it time. [video]
Kissing The Lipless – The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow – 2003
These lyrics don’t mention the mall, and the song has nothing to do with consumerism, but its video prominently features one of the most remarkable aspects of the Lloyd Center Mall, its ice rink.
Is 2003 James Mercer still romanticizing the mall? Maybe.
The Middle Mall Period: The Mall as Foe
Australia – The Shins – Wincing the Night Away – 2007
Is the automall a mall? Sure! So you get to watch Mercer and crew have fun wreaking havoc at a car
dealership mall. Cute video. The song could loosely be interpreted as anti-consumerism, but really, it’s anti-job. This is the tip of the Mercer-mall metaphor.
Nothing at All – The Shins – (Single-Only) – 2007
You got a feeling nothing here is free
‘Cause you grew up in a mall
The mall? Nah. It’s nothing at all. [video]
The Mall & Misery – Broken Bells – Broken Bells – 2010
I know what I know
But nothing will fill the hole
So let your mind go (let my mind go)
Straight down the runway
Does one want to
Get more used to?
The mall and misery (the mall and the misery)
The dead mouths it costs to be alive
You can take the Mercer out of The Shins but you can’t take the mall out of the Mercer. Or can you? Buy! Buy! Buy! Consumerism time! [video]
The Rifle’s Spiral – The Shins – Port of Morrow – 2012
Primitive mural on the wall,
To fortify your grim resolve.
Amid the glitz of a shopping mall
Another grain of indigent salt for the sea.
Consumerism is only skin-deep? It’s a fraud, inside. [video]
No Way Down – The Shins – Port of Morrow – 2012
Out beyond the western squalls
In an alien land
They work for nothing at all
They don’t know the mall or the layaway plan
Dig yourself a beautiful grave
Everything you could want
Maybe those invisible slaves
Are too far away for a ghost to haunt
The Late Post-Mall Period: Mall? What Mall?
Did I miss any? Let me know. James hasn’t chirped about the mall in almost a decade.
Dan Dreifort’s seen The Shins a couple times. He generally likes their ‘mall period’ output more than their ‘post-mall period’ pieces. Props to u/EthanWins at r/TheShins subreddit for the add of Nothing at All.